Turkey will ‘clean’ entire Syrian border, says Erdogan
ANKARA: President Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey will “clean” its entire border with Syria in a sign that the Turkish offensive on the Syrian Kurdish YPG group in northern Syria’s Afrin region could be extended further.
Since Turkey’s assault in Afrin began nine days ago, it has increased tensions between Ankara and the United States, which has supported the YPG in other parts of Syria in the fight against the militant Islamic State group.
“Step by step, we will clean our entire border,” Erdogan said in a speech after the army said it had captured Jebel Bursaya, a hill that Turkish media had described as a critical position in recent days.
Erdogan said last week that Turkey might conduct operations eastwards inside Syria all the way to Iraq to clear the YPG from its frontier. Syrian Kurdish officials have pledged to meet any wider Turkish assault with an “appropriate response”.
More than a week into their offensive, however, Turkey and allied Syrian rebel groups have made only modest progress fighting into hilly terrain against entrenched foes.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of militias of which the YPG is the strongest, had said earlier on Sunday that there was intense fighting in the area.
A war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Turkey and its allied rebel groups had taken the hill, which overlooks the major Syrian town of Azaz, which they also hold.
The Observatory said Turkish air strikes had killed three people in one family early on Sunday in Afrin. Turkish bombardment also damaged an ancient temple, it said.After several days of poor visibility because of heavy rain and fog, Turkish warplanes and artillery took advantage of the clear skies and pounded the hill of Barsaya near the Kurdish town of Afrin in northwestern Syria, official news agency Anadolu said.
And in a sign the Turkish campaign has rendered prospects for peace in Syria even fainter, authorities in the war-torn country’s Kurdish autonomous region said they will not attend peace talks in Russia’s Sochi.
“We said before that if the situation remained the same in Afrin we could not attend Sochi,” regional official Fawza al-Yussef said.
Rebel backer Turkey is one of the sponsors of the talks in the Black Sea resort on Monday and Tuesday, along with Damascus allies Russia and Iran. Turkey’s air and artillery strikes on Sunday were even fiercer than previous days, said a correspondent on the Syrian-Turkish border who saw towers of smoke rising into the sky.